Sanjay Tickoo chose to stay put in Kashmir when all his frightened Pandit friends, relatives and neighbours preferred to leave the valley after insurgency began in 1989. Despite facing threats in the form of a letter pasted on his door, asking him to leave, Mr Tickoo fought back, but 22 years down the line, he regrets his decision.
“I can’t go back in time and change my decision but yes if my daughter who will be in 12th grade in next couple of years chooses to study and settle outside Kashmir, I wouldn’t stop her,” says Mr Tickoo in a husky voice.
About one lakh Kashmiri Pandits migrated from Kashmir towards Jammu in the South in 1990 in a mass exodus – and many conflicting theories explain the exodus with some blaming the administration led by Governor Jag Mohan, who wanted to escort them safely out of the valley till the situation got better. Others believe that the administration wanted to give a communal colour to the uprising but all agree to the fact that the exodus was a big loss to the Kashmir societal fabric in which Muslims and Pandits had co-existed peacefully for centuries.
Such mysterious posters asking Pandits to leave or face death were pasted across the length and breadth of the valley – on the face of it the obvious aim was to frighten them so they could leave. While it worked and Pandits began to leave as government transport picked them up from villages and towns but there was one man who chose to fight back – Mr Tickoo got the letter published as an advertisement in one of local Urdu newspapers. It worked and all his shocked Muslim neighbours and friends assembled at his house and apologised for the misdeed, not before promising that his family faced no threat and urged him not to leave his home.
A father of two, Mr Tickoo, who now heads the Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), an organisation looking after the affairs of Pandits, chose to stay back despite the threats and violence, and says that the community is facing the toughest times ever. He alleges that for the state, only migrants (Pandits who left the valley) matter and they have policies for them only while for them there is nothing in store. “They have policies for only two Ms – Migrants and Militants. They want militants to come back and promise them rehabilitation policies, and similarly they have announced jobs for migrants who return,” says Mr Tickoo. “Do they know we exist and what have they done to save the Pandit community which we represent?”asks Mr Tickoo.
According to 1991 govt. Census figures, the number of Pandits who didn’t migrate was 32,000 but according to a census carried out by KPSS in 2008-09, there were only 2654 people left. “Government policies are to be blamed for the dwindling numbers,” Mr Tickoo reasons.
According to him, a Pandit student with as low as 42% marks can get a Software Engineering seat outside Kashmir and on the other hand, non-migrant Pandit doesn’t get it even after scoring 80-90% marks. “Isn’t this enough reason that our students will also decide to leave the valley,” asks Mr Tickoo, adding “This should serve an eye-opener for those who are crying that migrant Pandits should come back.” “Will they?”he asks.
Also, as per the state’s rehabilitation policy, more than 1500 Kashmiri migrant Pandits have been allotted jobs in various state government departments but for the non-migrants, government, according to Mr Tickoo have been promising will find something. “The government should have endorsed our sacrifices but it didn’t and it never accepted the fact that we stood on ground zero for last two decades,” Mr Tickoo rues.
At a time when migrant Pandits have dominated the narrative while this miniscule population, dwindling with time has become virtually become non-existent. From pro-freedom organisation and civil society to political and religious organisations, everyone has been only talking about the migrant Pandits and their return, not a single voice is heard to look into the affairs of Pandits living inside the valley. “If Mirwaiz Umar Farooq can raise the issue of Kashmiri language, why can’t he also raise our issue,” asks Mr Tickoo.
Migrant Pandits, according to Mr Tickoo are eligible for financial packages besides their children get the reservation across the educational institutions. They have found lucrative careers for their children who are comfortably settled in various parts of the country and abroad. In this situation, according to Mr Tickoo, one can’t expect a software engineer to leave his job and settle in valley. This holds true for all those Muslim Kashmiris as well who have settled outside Kashmir and their association is just to visit their homes once or twice in a year.
Mr Tickoo says that people from his own community have been using unparliamentary language against them for their decision to stay put. “Why did you stay back, they ask us,” says Mr Tickoo. And rightly so, this community hasn’t been facing only financial issues but also social and psychological issues.
“We can’t find a good choice for our daughters in valley and then we are forced to marry them outside and quite similarly our sons also face the same problem, no outsider is willing to marry off their daughters to a Pandit living in Kashmir,” rues Mr Tickoo.
Besides, this community has lost all the friends and relatives with whom they can share their moments of happiness and sorrow. “When my father passed away in 1991, priest wasn’t available and I needed somebody my own (close relatives like sister, aunt, uncle) to console me. But they weren’t there. Though my Muslim neighbours and friends were by my side but I couldn’t have expected that from them,” reveals Mr Tickoo.
Last but not the least, these people have been suffering psychologically as well. “We could share what happened with us during the day with anyone. It was a period of suffocation and we could feel that uneasiness which we could have vented out by sharing with friends and family,” says Mr Tickoo.